When Clarence Thomas was confirmed for the Supreme Court in 1991, an eerie precedent was set. When Brett Kavanaugh defended himself against Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations, he consecrated a pattern: the fate of a powerful man accused of wrongdoing will be determined by political theatre, not a serious attempt to find out what really happened.
Twenty-seven years ago, the University of Oklahoma law professor Anita Hill recounted the harassment she endured while working as Thomas’s assistant at the Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. “He talked about pornographic materials depicting individuals with large penises or large breasts, involved in various sex acts,” she told the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time. “On several occasions, Thomas told me graphically of his own sexual prowess.” Her speech was controlled, dignified, and cautious. Nevertheless, the committee over-scrutinized the most minuscule of details, to the point where Sen. Orrin Hatch even accused her of “erotomania” (delusional sex addiction) and said she may have pulled details of her story from The Exorcist.
Thomas called the hearings a “national disgrace,” and suggested they were, in his infamous words, “a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves.” He was eventually confirmed for the high court by a historically-thin margin: 52-48.
On Thursday, the Stanford University psychology lecturer Christine Blasey Ford detailed how Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a party in 1982, when they were both in high school. She spoke nervously, but carefully relayed her story to the panel, with expert descriptions of trauma’s effect on memory. Senator Hatch told reporters afterword that he considered Ford an “attractive, good witness.” Other politicians and media outlets alike deemed Ford credible. Senator Cory Booker even called her “heroic.”